Nineteen years ago, Jean van de Velde walked up to the 72nd hole needing, at minimum, a double-bogey to win The Open. Instead, his triple-bogey landed him in a three-man playoff he didn’t win.
With The Open underway at Carnoustie this year, we take a look back at athletes and teams who were just about as close as you can get to a title — only to see it fall from their grasp. Whether is was a final strike, a huge lead or last-minute gaffe, the agony of defeat is real.
Browse by sport:
Jean van de Velde, 1999 Open Championship
He had it won when: Walking up to the 72nd hole at Carnoustie, Van de Velde held a seemingly insurmountable three-shot lead. A par would have won it. A bogey would have won it. Even a double-bogey would have won it.
How it fell apart: A wayward drive landed in the 17th fairway, and instead of pitching back into play, Van de Velde went for the green with a 2-iron, bouncing it off a grandstand railing and finishing in thick rough. His next shot landed in the burn, and, after taking off his shoes and socks and rolling up his pants and climbing into the water, Van de Velde took a penalty drop. His next shot landed in the bunker, but he was able to get up and down to make a playoff with a triple-bogey.
Heartbreak quote: “It’s sad, it’s very sad … can I go back and play it again, actually? That’d be nice.”
The aftermath: Paul Lawrie, who was 10 shots back entering Sunday’s final round, went on to win a three-man playoff against Justin Leonard and Van de Velde, whose name had already been engraved on the Claret Jug.
Greg Norman, 1996 Masters
He had it won when: Norman had led the entire tournament and entered the final round with a seemingly safe six-shot lead over Nick Faldo.
How it fell apart: Norman maintained a four-shot lead through seven holes, then proceeded to lose five shots to par over the next five holes. Faldo picked up one birdie in that stretch to take a two-shot lead after Norman’s tee shot on 12 found the water for a double-bogey.
Heartbreak quote: “I screwed up. It’s all on me. I know that. But losing this Masters is not the end of the world. I let this one get away, but I still have a pretty good life. I’ll wake up tomorrow, still breathing, I hope. All these hiccups I have, they must be for a reason. All this is just a test. I just don’t know what the test is yet.”
The aftermath: Six shots up entering the final round, Norman imploded for a 78 and would finish five strokes back. One of the best players of his era, Norman would never add a Masters title to his legacy.
San Antonio Spurs, 2013 NBA Finals
They had it won when: The Spurs went into Game 6 of the NBA Finals up 3-2 on the Miami Heat, and led at one point by as many as 13. San Antonio was up by five points with 28.2 seconds to play, and the championship trophy was ready to be rolled out onto the court.
How it fell apart: LeBron James made a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two with 20 seconds left. Kawhi Leonard split a pair of free throws, and after James missed a 3-pointer, Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound and passed it out to Ray Allen for the game-tying 3 with 5 seconds left. The Spurs also led by three halfway through overtime, but the Heat ended the OT on a 6-0 run to win, highlighted by a last-minute block from Bosh.
Heartbreak quote: “It’s a tough moment. We were a few seconds away from winning the championship and we let it go.” — Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili
The aftermath: The Heat went on to win Game 7 and a second consecutive championship. But the next year, the Spurs got their revenge in a rematch, topping the Heat in five games.
Detroit Pistons, 1988 NBA Finals
They had it won when: Detroit took a 3-2 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers and were up by one in the final seconds of Game 6 thanks to a heroic effort by Isiah Thomas, who scored 25 points in the third quarter on a sprained ankle.
How it fell apart: Bill Laimbeer was called for a foul on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a foul Detroit players still insist was phantom) with 14 seconds left. Abdul-Jabbar sank the free throws, the Lakers won Game 6 and completed their back-to-back in Game 7.
Heartbreak quote: “We got a miraculous game from Isiah, as hurt as he was. He got us back in the game. On offense, we didn’t give him as much support as I would like. We were 45 seconds away from an NBA championship. What can I say?” — Pistons coach Chuck Daly
The aftermath: Detroit lost by one and fell in Game 7 by three. The Pistons were still not happy with the “phantom” foul call, but they would get their revenge the following season, sweeping the Lakers for the first of back-to-back titles.
Honorable mention: 2016 Golden State Warriors (only team to lose a 3-1 Finals lead).
Seattle Seahawks, 2015 Super Bowl
They had it won when: The Seahawks lost a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX but were in perfect position to top the New England Patriots to win their second consecutive Super Bowl: They had the ball second-and-goal on the Patriots’ 1-yard line down 28-24 with 26 seconds left and one of the best short-yardage backs in Marshawn Lynch.
Heartbreak quote: “For it to come down to a play like that, I hate that we have to live with that. Because we did everything right to win the football game.” — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll
The aftermath: Everyone immediately questioned the Seahawks for passing the football instead of giving the ball to Lynch. People still bring it up today. The Patriots have been to two Super Bowls since then (winning one), while Seattle has seen its Super Bowl window, and the Legion of Boom, slowly crumble.
Atlanta Falcons, 2017 Super Bowl
They had it won when: The Falcons had a 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl LI with 8:31 left in the third quarter, and held a lead until 57 seconds remained in the fourth.
How it fell apart: An ill-timed fumble by Matt Ryan with Atlanta up 16 in the fourth quarter, a penalty-sack combination with the Falcons leading by eight late in the fourth quarter in Patriots territory and a circus catch by Julian Edelman helped New England force overtime. One OT possession and a Pats TD later, and the largest Super Bowl collapse ever was finished.
Heartbreak quote: “I feel broken. I feel numb.” — Falcons safety Ricardo Allen
The aftermath: The score of 28-3 became a meme, a way of trolling by the public. It was blown up, put on T-shirts, displayed all over social media. In the one season since, both teams made the playoffs, but neither won the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots, 2008 Super Bowl
They had it won when: The 18-0 Patriots entered the Super Bowl against the New York Giants as heavy favorites, and had just taken a 14-10 lead late in the fourth quarter. They just had to hold Eli Manning & Co. to a field goal or less one last time.
How it fell apart: Asante Samuel dropped a sure interception and Manning avoided a sack to hit David Tyree for the well-known 32-yard “helmet catch” on consecutive plays, setting up the Giants for a go-ahead score. Plaxico Burress hauled in a TD with 35 seconds left, and the rest was history.
Heartbreak quote: “It’s disappointing; we came so close to being special. We’re second class.” — Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the New York Times
The aftermath: This Super Bowl goes down as arguably the biggest upset in the game’s history. In New York, 18-1 became a rallying call, and in New England, it was a black eye. The teams would meet in the Super Bowl again four seasons later, with the Giants winning again. The Patriots have done OK since, winning two Super Bowls.
Honorable mention: 1988 Cincinnati Bengals
Texas Rangers, 2011 World Series
How it fell apart: St. Louis’ David Freese, down to his final strike, smacked a two-run triple to force extra innings. The Rangers responded by taking another two-run lead in the 10th, and twice more had the Cardinals down to their last strike. They gave up run-scoring hits each time, and ended up losing in the 11th. They then went on to lose Game 7.
Heartbreak quote: “If there’s one thing that happened in this World Series that I’ll look back on is being so close, just having one pitch to be made and one out to be gotten and it could have been a different story.” — Rangers manager Ron Washington
The aftermath: The loss was the second straight World Series defeat for the Rangers, who haven’t made it back to the Fall Classic since.
Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Series
How it fell apart: The Red Sox retired the first two Mets in the bottom of the inning but couldn’t get the third out. New York tied the game on Bob Stanley’s wild pitch and won it 6-5 when Mookie Wilson’s grounder to first rolled between Bill Buckner’s legs.
Heartbreak quote: “I can’t remember the last time I missed a ball like that, but I’ll remember this one.” — Buckner
The aftermath: The Mets went on to win Game 7 and extended the Red Sox’s championship drought to 68 years.
Cleveland Indians, 1997 World Series
How it fell apart: Moises Alou led off with a single off Mesa, and Charles Johnson lined a one-out single to right two batters later, moving Alou to third. Craig Counsell’s sacrifice fly to right plated Alou, tying a game Florida would win on Edgar Renteria’s 11th-inning single.
Heartbreak quote: “I just didn’t do my job. It hurts a lot to think we were just two outs away.” — Mesa
The aftermath: Mesa was relentlessly booed every time he took the Jacobs Field mound following the Game 7 meltdown, at least partially leading to his trade to the Giants in July 1998. Mesa would never be a star again but would remain serviceable, saving 217 more games in an MLB career that would last until 2007. The Indians (who also lost the 2016 World Series in seven games) remain mired in a World Series drought that is now at 70 years.
San Francisco Giants, 2002 World Series
They had it won when: The Giants seemed well on their way to winning their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco, as they had a 3-2 lead over the Angels in the series and took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 6.
How it fell apart: The Rally Monkey emerged after Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out of the game, as Scott Spiezio’s three-run homer got the Angels back into it. They scored three more runs in the eighth to take the lead and took care of the Giants 4-1 in Game 7 to win the title.
Heartbreak quote: “Your heart is heavy, your stomach is empty. You know, your head and your brains feel full right now. It’s a very difficult time.” — Giants manager Baker
The aftermath: Baker moved on to manage the Chicago Cubs the next season and the Giants enjoyed Barry Bonds’ home-run chase before finally winning a title in 2010. And 2012. And 2014.
Chicago Blackhawks, 1971 Stanley Cup Final
They had it won when: Chicago led the series 3-2 and led by a goal heading into the third period of Game 6 but could not close it out. The Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead in Game 7 but again could not hold on.
How it fell apart: Montreal scored twice in the third period to win Game 6 and scored three unanswered goals in Game 7 to win its fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.
Heartbreak quote: “Something just went wrong. Damned if it can be explained. We had the game in control, and we let it go.” — Hawks winger Eric Nesterenko
The aftermath: The loss extended the Blackhawks’ Cup drought to 10 years, and they would not win one again until 2010.
Alabama Crimson Tide, 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship
They had it won when: The Crimson Tide took a 31-28 lead over Clemson with 2:07 left in the fourth quarter on Jalen Hurts‘ touchdown run. Alabama’s defense (which was the best in the FBS that season) just had to keep Clemson off the board for one drive.
Heartbreak quote: “Look, there’s not one play in the game that makes a difference in a game. We could have done a lot of things a lot better.” — Alabama coach Nick Saban
The aftermath: Clemson’s rematch victory prevented Alabama from winning consecutive titles over the Tigers and cemented Watson’s Clemson legacy. Alabama bounced back with a title the next season, beating Clemson in the CFP semis and Georgia in the title game.
USC Trojans, 2006 Rose Bowl, BCS national championship game
They had it won when: USC seemed to be sitting pretty for a third straight national title, holding a 38-26 lead over Texas at the Rose Bowl with 6:42 left in the game. The Longhorns responded with a touchdown, but all USC had to do to seal the win was convert a fourth-and-2 with 2:09 left.
How it fell apart: Texas stopped LenDale White short, then Vince Young drove the Longhorns for the winning points, scoring on an 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left to grab a 41-38 victory.
Heartbreak quote: “If you make that first down, you’re squatting on the football to win the game. We just missed it. By what — 2 inches?” — USC coach Pete Carroll
The aftermath: The fun came to an end for Trojans QB Matt Leinart and RB Reggie Bush, with the duo unable to pull off a three-peat. They still left SC with their college legacies intact, and so did Young. All were taken high in that April’s NFL draft, but none quite lived up to the lofty standards they had set.
Memphis Tigers, 2008 national championship game
They had it won when: Memphis led Kansas by nine points with 2:12 left in regulation in the title game, and despite poor free throw shooting, still had a two-point lead with Derrick Rose at the line with 10 seconds left.
How it fell apart: Rose made just one of two free throws, and Mario Chalmers followed up with a game-tying 3-pointer. The Tigers never led in OT, and Kansas claimed the national title.
Heartbreak quote: “Ten seconds to go, we’re thinking we’re national champs, all of a sudden a kid makes a shot, and we’re not.” — Memphis coach John Calipari
The aftermath: Rose left for the NBA, where he was picked No. 1 in the 2008 draft. Calipari stayed at Memphis one more season before he left for Kentucky in 2009. Kansas and coach Bill Self, perennially ranked high, have not won a title since.
AC Milan, 2005 UEFA Champions League
They had it won when: AC Milan was favored to win its second UEFA Champions League title in three years and jumped on Liverpool in the final in Istanbul, taking a 3-0 lead into halftime.
How it fell apart: The Reds roared back, scoring three goals in a six-minute span of the second half to even the score at 3-3. After the teams went scoreless in extra time, Liverpool prevailed in a shootout, with Jerzy Dudek knocking away Andriy Shevchenko’s penalty to cap the “The Miracle of Istanbul.”
Heartbreak quote: “I thought my goals had won it, but I knew that save was the moment we said bye-bye to the cup.” — AC Milan’s Hernan Crespo after Shevchenko’s missed chance in the final minute
The aftermath: Liverpool’s triumph marked its fifth European Cup. Milan avenged the loss two years later, defeating Liverpool 2-1 in the final.
Arkansas Razorbacks: 2018 College World Series
They had it won when: Arkansas won the first game over Oregon State in the best-of-three series and had the Beavers down to their last out in Game 2, as Arkansas had a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth as Oregon State had a runner on third. The Razorbacks had a 44-0 record when leading entering the ninth inning.
How it fell apart: Cadyn Grenier popped up to foul territory in shallow right field, but Arkansas was unable to catch the foul pop for the third out. Grenier took advantage of his new life, driving in Zach Clayton with a base hit for the tying run. Grenier then scored on a two-run homer by Trevor Larnach that put the Beavers ahead.
Heartbreak quote: “I’m not going to call it a devastating loss. I’m still standing here. Nobody’s dead, you know?” — Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn.
The aftermath: Oregon State completed the comeback with a 5-0 victory over the Razorbacks in Game 3, sealing their third CWS title.
Minnesota Lynx, 2016 WNBA Finals
They had it won when: With the series tied 2-2, Minnesota led Game 5, 76-75, after a Maya Moore jumper with 15.4 seconds left.
How it fell apart: On the ensuing possession, the Sparks missed two shots but got the offensive rebound each time, and Nneka Ogwumike scored the championship-winning putback with 2.1 seconds left.
Heartbreak quote: “The team that won this game deserved to win the game. It’s just hard to have it come that close.” — Moore
The aftermath: The Lynx were denied back-to-back championships, but they got their revenge on the Sparks and hoisted the trophy again in 2017.
2009 Miami (Ohio)
They had it won when: The RedHawks had a seemingly secure 3-1 lead over Boston University with just a minute left in the game.
How it fell apart: BU pulled its goalie with 3:23 to play, but Miami was never able to score on the empty net to ice the game. The Terriers rallied for two goals in the final minute and won in overtime.
Heartbreak quote: “Kevin makes a great play, sacrifices his body, and it goes over Cody’s head into the net. That’s what happens in overtime.” – Miami coach Enrico Blasi after Colby Cohen’s shot was redirected after it hit a sliding Kevin Roeder and sailed over goaltender Cody Reichard for the winner
Aftermath: Miami looked well on its way to the first national championship in school history in any sport. Instead, the Terriers captured their first national title since 1995.
Martina Hingis, 2002 Australian Open
She had it won when: Hingis took the first set from Jennifer Capriati and led the second set 4-0, eventually setting up three championship points.
How it fell apart: Capriati saved all three championship points to force a tiebreaker, then saved another championship point in the tiebreak before going on to win the third set 6-2.
Heartbreak quote: “I felt like my head was all over the place, and after that second set she had the momentum. I didn’t really believe in it anymore, even when I was up 2-1 in the third, I knew I wouldn’t last when I needed to. I had goose bumps all over my body at that stage and that was the dehydration. In the break, I was like, ‘No way do I want to go out there again.'”
Aftermath: Hingis, who won five Grand Slam singles titles from 1997 to 1999, never played in another Grand Slam singles final. Neither did Capriati.
Jana Novotna, 1993 Wimbledon
She had it won when: Novotna had the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Steffi Graf, on the ropes, as she had a 4-1 lead in the third set and was one point away from going up 5-1.
How it fell apart: Novotna double-faulted on her serve, allowing Graf to eventually break her serve and get the game. Novotna never recovered from losing that game, and Graf won the next four to win the match 7-6, 1-6, 6-4.
Heartbreak quote: “She is a very nice lady. When she said to me that one day I will win, and that she just knew I would, I couldn’t hold back.” — Novotna, after being consoled by the Duchess of Kent
Aftermath: After losing the final again, in 1997 to Martina Hingis, the third time was the charm for Novotna, who beat Nathalie Tauziat in 1998 for her only Grand Slam singles title.